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Road to ICE 2024: UAE a potentially huge casino market

| By Kyle Goldsmith | Reading Time: 3 minutes
On the road to ICE, iGB will prep you for the biggest show of 2024 with this new series covering the latest developments since 2023's show.
ICE London 2024

The United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) creation of a federal gambling regulator in September 2023 is the next step towards a legal casino market in the country.

The launch of the General Commercial Gaming Regulatory Authority (GCGRA), tasked with creating the regulatory framework for national lottery and commercial gaming in the UAE, was announced on 3 September.

While it’s still unclear what the final regulations will look like, operators are already taking steps to set themselves up to launch in the region.

One such company is Wynn Resorts. Chief executive Craig Billings has talked up the UAE as the most exciting new market opening in decades.

UAE moves step closer to regulated casino market with GCGRA creation

WAM, the UAE’s state-run news agency, announced the establishment of the GCGRA in early September.

Currently, anyone found gambling in the UAE can be subject to two years in prison and an AED50,000 (£10,699/€12,452/$13,615), according to federal law.

However, the creation of the GCGRA is the next domino to fall towards a regulated gambling market in the UAE.

Kevin Mullally, previously the executive director of the Missouri Gaming Commission, will be the GCGRA’s chief executive. Mullally previously spent 17 years with Gaming Laboratories International (GLI).

Jim Murren will chair the GCGRA’s board of directors. Murren led MGM Resorts as its chairman and chief executive from 2008 to 2020.

It’s still unclear what exactly will be permitted in the country. Questions remain over whether there will be an online component available to bettors and operators in the market.

Another point of contention is whether the UAE’s two existing raffles, Emirates Draw and Mahzooz, will be regulated by the GCGRA.

According to iGB sources, Mullally’s former company GLI has spearheaded the consultations on the creation of the UAE’s regulatory framework.

Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, a gaming consulting and market research firm, has also supported GLI in this work. The consultant has previously involved itself more in digital offerings, sparking speculation the UAE plans for an online market.

These firms pushed for the government to handle gambling regulation on a federal level, as opposed to being the responsibility of each individual emirate.

Sources also stated the UAE plans on establishing a 25% revenue tax on mass market gambling. Premium gaming, meanwhile, would be subject to an 8% tax.

Wynn looking to capitalise on UAE’s casino potential

Wynn Resorts is the operator perhaps best placed to take advantage of the UAE launching a regulated gambling market. It’s on track to open the region’s first integrated casino resort.

Wynn has begun construction on its Al-Marjan casino, with the venture set to cost around $3.9bn (£3.1bn/€3.6bn). Wynn holds a minority stake in the venture, with 60% of the business owned by the operator’s local partners.

The resort, Wynn’s first venture in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region, is expected to open in early 2027.

The site is located approximately 65 miles from Dubai, the largest city in the UAE. It will include a gaming area, 1,500 hotel rooms, dining and lounge options, a spa and wellness centre, a high-end shopping esplanade, events centre, an on-site theatre and a range of other entertainment facilities.

Wynn first needs a licence, though, with questions over how this will work. The GCGRA is charged with managing licensing.

Wynn chief executive Craig Billings isn’t worried, however, claiming he expects Wynn’s Ras Al Khaimah licence to be issued “imminently”.

Wynn has consistently shown faith in the UAE launching a regulated market. Billings has lauded its growth potential on a number of occasions, particularly as the first operator to make its move in the region.

Billings recently said: “We believe it’s highly unlikely that every emirate will ultimately avail themselves of the right to host an integrated resort. Our view is that it will likely be us and us alone for a multi-year period given that we are well under way on construction now.

“We all know the advantages of being first as we have seen in other markets. As I’ve said before, this is the most exciting new market opening in decades.”

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